The identification of early markers that predict the development of specific social trajectories is critical to understand the developmental and neurobiological underpinnings of healthy social development. We investigated, in infant rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta), whether newborns' capacity to imitate facial gestures is a valid predictive marker for the emergence of social competencies later in development, at one year of age. Here we first assessed whether infant macaques (N = 126) imitate lipsmacking gestures (a macaque affiliative expression) performed by a human experimenter in their first week of life. We then collected data on infants' social interactions (aggression, grooming, and play) and self-scratching (a proxy indicator of anxiety) at 11-14 months when infants were transferred into a new enclosure with a large social group. Our results show that neonatal imitators exhibit more dominant behaviours, are less anxious, and, for males only, spend more time in play at one year old. These findings suggest that neonatal imitation may be an early predictor of infant sociality and may help identify infants at risk of neurodevelopmental social deficits.
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